In times of confusion and significant changes, scammers tend to exploit vulnerable individuals seeking guidance and assistance. As headlines shift and uncertainty prevails, scammers skillfully adapt their tactics to take advantage of people in need. To shed light on this issue and empower immigrants with knowledge, we interviewed Rosario Mendez, an expert from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Ms. Mendez specializes in consumer protection and combating scams targeting immigrants. In this exclusive interview, she provides insights into the tactics employed by scammers, red flags to watch out for, and the actions individuals can take to protect themselves from fraud.
1. What are some common tactics used by dishonest notarios to deceive immigrants seeking legal help and how prevalent are they? How can immigrants identify these red flags? The most important thing to know is that notarios are not lawyers. Do not pay them for immigration services. There can be confusion among Latinos because in many Latin American countries, a notario público, notary public, or notario can be someone who has a lot of legal training. But in the United States, a notary or notario público is a witness to the signing of official documents. Notarios in the U.S. are not licensed attorneys and can’t give you legal advice. If you need legal advice about your immigration status, you need to speak with an attorney or an accredited representative who’s been certified by the US Department of Justice.
I can tell you that the most common scams that we see are people who offer to provide immigration services, but they are not authorized to provide those services. They will charge you a fee (upfront) and promise to help, they will often do nothing but take your money. The FTC has sued and stopped fraudulent notarios, but education is very important. People need to know that a notario can’t give them immigration help. Be on the lookout for these red flags. For instance: If a notario tells you that they can give you legal advice. They can’t. It’s a scam. If a notario or someone else asks you to sign black forms. Don’t. It’s a scam. If a notario asks you to pay for immigration forms. Don’t. It’s a scam. Immigration forms from USCIS are free. In addition, don’t let anyone take away your original documents.
If you need an immigration attorney, you can find a free or low-cost immigration attorney, check out this state-by-state list from the U.S. Department of Justice, (www.justice.gov). You also can see this list from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (www.aila.org) to find an immigration attorney in your area. You can also find an accredited representative on the US DOJ’s website. Find the recognized organizations in your area on the Recognition & Accreditation Program page on DOJ’s website. The organization may charge you a fee.
2. There are big concerns around scammers tricking immigrants into signing blank forms or forms containing false information. Can you explain why dishonest notaries might ask immigrants to do this and the potential consequences they may face as a result? Dishonest people may ask you to sign blank forms so that they can add false information or to make you think they’re working on your case, but they’re not. They may also want you to sign without reading what the form really is. It’s very important to know what you’re signing. Do not sign blank forms or documents you don’t understand. Submitting the wrong form or false information can hurt your immigration process. You may waste time and miss deadlines. You may even be subject to criminal charges if you lie in an official government form.
3. One of the big themes around this is the rise of false promises by scammers regarding special access, such as guaranteed Green Cards or citizenship. What are some examples, and what measures can immigrants take to avoid falling for them? This question is probably better suited for USCIS as the FTC is not an expert in the immigration process and all the different types of visas. I can tell you, however, that if someone says that they have special access to visas or anything immigration related, they’re lying to you, and you can be sure they are scammers. We see this with the Diversity Visa, (https://reportfraud.ftc.gov). The immigration process is complicated, so it’s important to get the right kind of help. Only an immigration lawyer in good standing and an accredited representative by the U.S. DOJ can legally help you in the immigration process. Look for organizations in your area that may provide you with free or low-cost assistance. There’s information at ftc.gov/immigration that can help your search. Remember, USCIS forms are free. Don’t pay for government forms. Also, the USCIS website is uscis.gov.Go there to find out the process and what you need to know and do. There’s information there in multiple languages on the Multilingual Resource Center.
4. The FTC has mentioned that it is important for community members and individuals who work with immigrant communities to report scammers who take advantage of immigrants. Can you explain how to report such incidents? What actions does the FTC take upon receiving such reports? It’s very important to report immigration and any other scams, fraud, or bad business practice that you see. The FTC uses reports to investigate and bring law enforcement cases. Reports also help the FTC know what scams to alert people about, so they can protect themselves, their friends, and family. When you follow a few short steps at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, your report is instantly available to more than 3,000 federal, state, and local law enforcers across the country. And, once you tell the FTC what happened, you’ll get advice on what to do to recover and how to guard against fraud in the future. You can also report in Spanish at ReporteFraude.ftc.gov. Not everyone feels comfortable providing information to a government database.People can file anonymously, and advocates can also file on behalf of someone else.
5. What are some additional resources or initiatives that the FTC or other organizations provide to educate and protect immigrants from scams and fraud? You can visit www.ftc.gov/immigration and www.ftc.gov/refugee. There’s information on how to spot and avoid scams against immigrants and refugees in those websites in multiple languages.
6. How effective has the FTC been in combating scams targeting immigrants? Are there any notable success stories or initiatives in place to address this issue? We see different types of scams against immigrants and have shut down, for example, dishonest form preparers who may charge you for forms that are free from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
We can only bring cases that we know about. That’s why it’s so important for people to report problems to us. Community involvement is crucial here. Sometimes people don’t want to report a problem because they’re embarrassed or maybe afraid that it will have other consequences. Scammers taking advantage of immigrants are banking on people’s silence. But, if you’ve experienced a scam, you can help stop it and help alert others in your community by reporting it to the FTC. If you’re not comfortable doing that, someone else can do it on your behalf. Fraud affects every community. The more we talk about what scams look like the better prepared people will be to spot and avoid them. We thank Rosario Mendez for providing us with valuable information on how to detect and avoid scams targeting immigrants. It’s important to stay vigilant and educate oneself to protect against fraud. If you suspect a scam or have been a victim of one, report the incident to the FTC through their website ReportFraud.ftc.gov
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